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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The (Broken) Machine

The Philadelphia Barrage won the Steinfeld Cup in 2006 and 2007. In 2008 they were homeless; they played all of their games on the road in exhibition cities. In 2009 the Barrage were removed from the league along with the New Jersey Pride, the San Fransisco Dragons, the Los Angeles Riptide, and the 2008 Cup winning Rochester Rattlers.
The Chicago Machine are arguable the worst team ever in Major League Lacrosse. Debuting in the 2006 season, the Machine did not win a game until the second week of the 2007 season. Never topping three wins, Chicago has finished last every season. It is no surprise then that the Machine are in serious trouble.
After wearing red throughout their existence, the Machine rebranded themselves in a Hopkins-esque Columbia blue and black scheme last season. The new color scheme was meant to emulate Chicago's flag but looked weak in the confines of Toyota Park whose anchor franchise, the Fire, wear red. For some reason, all Machine merchandise available online remained red.
Half of the team's home games were played outside of Toyota Park. The opening and closing games were upgraded to Soldier Field. The third home game outside of their official stadium was held in Milwaukee to test that market for a potential MLL franchise in the future. Milwaukee is close enough to the Windy City to avoid suspicion.
About a month ago, I heard a rumor that the Machine would not have any home games in Chicago this season. I searched in vain for some sort of confirmation but found nothing. Last week the MLL announced that the Machine would host the Denver Outlaws in Rochester. As a one off game, the teams chosen seem kind of odd; the article mentions nothing about a full road schedule for the Machine.
This article popped up yesterday. Not only does it talk about the Machine hosting the Cannons in Virginia Beach, it also confirms that the Machine will be playing a full road schedule this year:
"The Machine will play their entire 2010 regular season as a travel team with additional dates and locations to be announced in the coming weeks."
Although the front page of the Machine's website says that tickets are now on sale, the schedule page tells a different story. Currently all of the games are listed as "away" except for the Rochester and Virginia Beach games. Expect to see the remaining four "home" games updated as those locations are announced. Just don't expect the locations to be listed on that page.
Much like the Barrage in 2008, I see this as the end of the Machine. Unlike Philadelphia, I expect the Machine franchise to resurface in some form for 2011 as I cannot imagine the league attempting to run with only 5 teams. The game in Rochester indicates that the league is looking to return to that market as early as next year which could result in a strong and bitter rivalry with Toronto. The Nationals are essentially the former Rattlers.
Based on the Barrage's tour, there are some cities/markets I expect to appear on the Machines journeys:

  • Dallas - most likely Pizza Hut Park in Frisco. The North Texas sports market is one of the strongest in the country and lax has really taken off in the metro.
  • Orlando or Tampa. The Titans success holds promise for a pro field team. Both cities have potential facilities and Florida is another state with a strong lacrosse culture.
  • Cincinnati. I am not sure where they would play as I know very little about the city, but I have heard numerous rumors about the league's desire to have a team in Ohio. Lately Cincy has popped up more than Columbus and Cleveland combined.
  • Seattle. The fans have done wondrous things in a very short period with the Sounders. The Stealth moved this this season and are having strong numbers. Washington is a booming lax area. Vancouver and Portland are close enough to travel.
  • Pittsburgh. It's no secret that a serious effort is underway to get a pro lax team - any pro lax team - in Pitt.
  • Philadelphia. This may seem like a sleeper, but Philly has a brand new soccer stadium this year that might be the key to bringing pro lax back to the City of Brotherly Love.
There are other cities that I feel deserve a shot or in some cases a second chance. The Twin Cities, St. Louis, San Jose, Salt Lake City, and Houston all come to mind. I just do not see the league targeting these locales this time around. Perhaps the next "tour" will look at these cities. I am not opposed to having a touring team until the league can afford to expand again either. However a permanently touring team presents some logistical and economic challenges. It will be interesting to see how the MLL recovers from this. Then again, Warrior recently became the principle sponsor of the LXM Pro Tour, so maybe touring is the future of pro field lax...
Losing the Machine will definitely hurt the Midwest lax market. It might also impact the Outlaws who are on a virtual island, now more than ever. But Denver has the advantage of being near a stronger lacrosse market than Chicago and has two NCAA Division I programs nearby (Denver and Airforce). There are also Division III and MCLA programs in their neighborhood.

Tribe 7